The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Dell plans to build its own cell phone running Google's Android operating system, and release it some time next year. It's worth noting that Dell has tried to get into the gadget business before. They made a couple of failed stabs at the MP3 player market. They also tried a PDA back in the day. None of these attempts made much of a dent in the market. That's why I'm wondering why they think they can succeed in the crowded cell phone market.
Partnering with AT&T
The announcement includes news that AT&T will distribute the phones, which like the iPhone, will boast a touch screen, but even though Android phones have gained in popularity, if for no other reason than the sheer number of them, they will be competing at AT&T with some fairly heady company including Apple and Blackberry, not to mention the very nice Samsung Propel. I've been curious about Android phones for some time, and up until recently they were only available from T-Mobile and Sprint. There are also plans for Verizon to offer Android phones very soon. That AT&T now has at least one in the works certainly makes sense, but is Dell the right partner?
Apple Didn't Make Phones Either
It's worth pointing out that before the iPhone, Apple was famous for computers and MP3 players. They had never delved into the phone market, yet they've done extremely well by any measure. So there is a precedent for a company that hadn't made cell phones having great success in the market (and with AT&T as exclusive partners to-boot), but Apple's Apple and Dell's Dell and I don't see the success being matched here. Dell makes decent, low-cost computers and they've done very well doing that. They've never been able to duplicate that success in the device market.
Need a Homerun to Work
They can make a phone of course without my permission. Last time I checked, Michael Dell didn't confer with me over business decisions, but if they hope to make any dent in the crowded US smart phone market, they better hit a home run first time out. There can be no bugs. The interface has to be flawless. The display has to be sharp. The case has to be elegant. The price has to be low and they have to market it aggressively and intelligently. They need to get a few very key players on their side. They need to leverage social media channels. In short, they have to do everything right, and even then, there is no guarantee they will succeed.
As an AT&T customer, and pretty much stuck there because of the nature of my family plan contracts, I'm happy to see more competition. I'm also thrilled to see an Android phone, but I'm just not convinced that Dell is the company to deliver the goods. Still, I would happily be proven wrong and to see them develop a killer phone that took the market by storm. I just don't believe that's going to happen.